Art and taboo

The Tiger Lillies, once a frequent guest in Russia, will return after a two-year hiatus. The outrageous British cabaret trio last came to St. Petersburg to perform and record a collaboration album with local ska-punk band Leningrad in September 2003.

By Sergey Chernov
Staff Writer

The Tiger Lillies, once a frequent guest in Russia, will return after a

two-year hiatus. The outrageous British cabaret trio last came to St.

Petersburg to perform and record a collaboration album with local

ska-punk band Leningrad in September 2003.

In the past two

years the band was extremely busy releasing two albums, ?Punch and

Judy,? based on a theater show, and ?Death and the Bible,? described as

?10 sad songs of Death and 8 jaunty tunes [about] Jesus and pals on one

CD? on the band?s web site.

?It was recorded at the same time

as ?The Sea? [2003],? said The Tiger Lillies accordion player and

vocalist Martyn Jacques speaking by phone from London this week about

the group?s most recent album.

?The original idea was going to

be, like, a double album, ?Death, the Bible and the Sea,? the three

subjects that I wrote about quite a lot. But, I?m not quite sure why,

in the end we just decided to release one album. It was all recorded in

Hamburg, Germany, three years ago. We released it just a couple years


According to Jacques, the band will release another

pair of albums by the end of this year, one, tentatively called ?Urine

Palace,? containing new songs recorded at the Soho Theater in London,

while another, called ?The Little Match Girl? will be based on The

Tiger Lillies? theater show after the Hans Christian Andersen story.

The Tiger Lillies? double bass player Adrian Stout and drummer Adrian

Huge also contributed to ?Lucky Dog Recordings 03/04,? a solo album by

the Tindersticks? Stuart Staples released in July.


the Berlin performance ?The Mountains of Madness,? a collaboration with

the band and bassist Alexander Hacke of the the German experimental

rock band Einsturzende Neubauten, based on stories by H.P. Lovecraft,

was filmed for a DVD release in August.

In this year?s

Meltdown festival held in London in June and curated by the U.S. punk

legend Patti Smith, The Tiger Lillies, whose influences include Gypsy

music, Italian opera, Bertold Brecht, American folk singers and 1970s

British punk, performed three Brecht songs during the festival?s night

dedicated to the German playwright.

?[Smith] performed on the

same night. She sang a couple of songs by Brecht. She was very good

curating the show. I think David Bowie did Meltdown a few years ago,

and I don?t think he even turned up, he wasn?t even there. So she was

there every night and was performing at a lot of shows so she was

actually involved in the festival. She?s a good person, I think, Patti


The Tiger Lillies? collaboration album with Leningrad,

?Huinya,? was released in Russia in March, after many delays, but

Jacques said he had not had a chance to listen to the resulting CD.

?I haven?t seen a copy, actually, I hope I will see one when I come to Russia,? he said.

?I enjoyed doing it. I had the rough mixes, I mastered copies of it,

and I thought it sounded funny. Again, I like to do these projects,

crazy projects with different people. It?s good fun to collaborate with

different kinds of musicians, different styles, different backgrounds.

I think the band is very funny. Leningrad is a funny bunch of guys.?

Two years ago, The St. Petersburg Times sat with The Tiger Lillies in

the kitchen of a rented flat to speak about art and taboos, soon after

a Moscow newspaper attacked the trio for Satanism due to controversial

songs and image.

?The British Tiger Lillies [...] have been

labeled by the Western media as ?the most incorrigible scoundrels,

blasphemers and sado-nazis in the world,? said the somewhat misinformed


?The Tiger Lillies are banned all over Europe, and they play only in skinheads? clubs.?

Using the word ?blasphemers,? the journalist probably refered to

?Banging in the Nails,? The Tiger Lillies? song about the crucifixion

from the band?s 1996 album ?The Brothel to the Cemetary.?


crucifying Jesus, banging in the nails, and I am so happy, because old

Jesus failed,? sings Jacques in his trademark falsetto vocals in the

song, sending some into shock.

?I write quite a lot of lyrics that are really extreme,? said Jacques.

?The way I see it, it?s a bit like if you go to the National Gallery (I

wish people would understand it like this in a way), you see paintings

in there, people being raped, people being buggered, all this is

violence, terrible violence, and terrible things going on.


you look at a Crucifixion [scene], there?s a man and he?s having nails

[driven into] his wrists. The violence of it, it?s obscene. His ribs

are always cut, there?s blood coming out, it?s really violent, and so

much of the Bible is graphic violence. And now that?s art. What?s the

difference between that and what we did. I just wish people would

listen to some of the lyrics that we do, and just saw as being art.?

According to Jacques, The Tiger Lillies? work helps listeners to deal

with prejudices imposed by society, liberating their minds.

?What we?ve been doing is sort of like looking at the way people think

and the way society works. That?s what artists always try to do ? to

make people question. We try to make people think. It?s challenging,

trying to push people and opening people?s minds.

?And that?s

what art tries to do. There are lots of artists in the world and they

all try to do this thing, one way or another. Maybe some of them don?t

really rationalize it. We just try to make people challenge their

conceptions and prejudices ? and bring out the absurdity of them.?

There are more uncomfortable subjects that The Tiger Lillies touch on

in their songs. For instance, the 1997 album ?Farmyard Filth,? with

such songs as ?Hamsters? and ?Sheep,? concentrates on bestiality.

Speaking about that work, Jacques stressed the absurdity of social


?In a way that?s a game we play as artists,? he said.

?If we talk about September 11, it?s totally acceptable to film people

jumping out of a building. Real people. Over and over again. That?s

totally acceptable.

?I can?t sing a song where I profess my

love for a sheep. That?s unacceptable. You can?t have that on

television. It?s a silly song about falling in love with a sheep.

There?s just a suggestion, ?Perhaps there?s a sexual connotation with

this relationship.? Then it becomes a taboo. I think artists tend to

work with real taboos.?

Jacques argued that such songs as ?Sheep? are simply a truthful reflection of reality.

?Why shouldn?t you be able to talk about the things that actually

exist. I think people do actually like to have sex with sheep. I sing a

song about falling in love with a sheep ? why is it offensive when it?s

true? I mean there are people who love to have sex with animals. And

not just animals ? dead people, anything, that?s actually real!?

Bassist Stout recalls a story to illustrate how The Tiger Lillies?

truthful approach to the harsh facts of life helps people not to go


?There?s a man in London who used to drive an ambulance,? he said.

?He came running into the pub, ?Oh, thank God, you are playing, I can

have a couple of pints. And he?s just been picking up arms and legs

from this huge car crash. And [the man] was thinking: ?Oh great, The

Tiger Lillies are playing tonight.? That?s true. He chose this job and

he chose to see The Tiger Lillies. That?s what it?s all about.?

The Tiger Lillies will perform at PORT at 7 p.m. on Sunday.